PDA

View Full Version : Benchmark Bourbon History



surveyor1
04-01-2006, 06:54
I am a land surveyor and am interested in writing about the history of Benchmark Bourbon. It is my understanding that it was founded by the McAfee brothers near Frankfort who were early surveyors.

Can anyone help trace this particlar brand to its founding date, locations, and general history up to the present date?

Thanks!
surveyor1

Gillman
04-01-2006, 07:03
Hi there, there are those on this board much more knowledgeable than I in the area of specific brand and distillery history. What I know is, the brand was invented by Seagram in the late 1960's to be a luxury or premium-level bourbon. At that time, the whiskey was not called McAfee, but simply Benchmark Bourbon; that name McAffee came much later. Originally Benchmark was sold in a decanter-style bottle with a black label. It was very good, rich and a little sweet, not complex but satisfying. It used to be sold in Canada (I'm in Toronto) because of the Seagram connection. Much later the brand, now owned by Sazerac Brands of New Orleans which owns Buffalo Trace distilery in Frankfort, acquired the McAffee association. I'm not sure how this happened, or why. I believe the brand Benchmark is still available but without the McAffee name on it. I bought some some months ago in Buffalo, New York, this was post-McAffee Benchmark and sold in a tall round bottle. I regret to say the whiskey was not as good as I remembered it in the 1970's. It was youngish and little rough, or so it seemed at the time anyway. I would think the original Benchmark was made at Lawrenceburg, KY at the distillery now owned by Kirin, when Seagram owned it. This originally was Four Roses Distillery and that famous brand is still made there and recently was again made available as a true bourbon (not a blend) in the U.S. domestic market. That is all I know and I stand to be corrected by others if I got some facts wrong. Some people on the board have bottles from the 1970's and I have been told bottles from that time can still be found in smaller liquor stores here and there.

Gary

Paulbrad25
04-01-2006, 22:20
I had an American whiskey tasting a couple of weeks ago here in the U.K.
It was led by Buffalo Trace as it was hosted by Inspirit brands but they also brought along a bottle of Benchmark which apparently is a very rare thing here as they lead their marketing with Buffalo.
They used it as an example of a similar whiskey to J.D. but highlighting the differances between Bourbon and Tennessee.
I found it much more interesting to drink and re-identified the lack of finish that charcoal filtering imposes.
Its apparently cheaper too and although we didn't try it with cola I'm left wondering how good branding & marketing is allowed to win over taste.

ratcheer
04-02-2006, 06:12
Gary, I remember having a drink or two of the Seagram's Benchmark back in the 70's and it was very good. But I haven't seen any of the more recent bottlings. Doesn't sound like I'm missing anything.

Tim

Gillman
04-02-2006, 07:05
Thanks PaulBrad, and Tim too. PaulBrad's comments about the brand are much like what I recall it tasting like, like a JD but without the overlay from the charcoal mellowing process, that puts it very well. JD is about 4-5 years old and the Benchmark struck me as about the same. It was good in Coke or for cocktails but as a neat sipper I feel there are other alternatives in the U.S., e.g. Evan Williams 7 years old. Indeed there are a number of Buffalo Trace whiskeys I'd choose first, e.g. the regular Ancient Age. However I would buy it again because one thing I've found with bourbon is, i) it's all good, in the sense of offering the straight whiskey experience often at a reasonable price, ii) it tends to change somewhat from bottle to bottle. Often it gets better, or seems to.

Gary

JeffRenner
04-02-2006, 14:05
I believe the brand Benchmark is still available but without the McAffee name on it.

Jim Murray reviews two "McAfee's Benchmarks" in his Whiskey Bible 2006. He even has an entry for simply "Benchmark" and writes "See McAfee's Benchmark." So it would appear that the name is still attached.

He gives the standard issue a score of 79 and writes, "Light, young, corn-rich with big caramel." It's available here in Michigan (http://www.cis.state.mi.us/lcc_code/rs_lcct.asp) for $9.96.

He give the eight-year-old version a score of 83, and writes, "Fruity, mouthwatering and refreshing."

Both are 80 proof. Neither sounds much like JD, but that is obviously the one to try to take a market share from by marketing to that segment.

Jeff

surveyor1
04-02-2006, 16:34
Thanks for the discussion. Here is a bottle of the "good stuff" on ebay. From what I have heard the new benchmark isn't the same.

surveyor1

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=6267393096&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1

TNbourbon
04-02-2006, 18:25
I have a pair of these bottles from 1975, both contained in a Ft. Snelling stand/holder and issued to commemorate the annual American Legion convention in Minneapolis that year. I just picked up the second one in an old store around here last week, and thought maybe I'd open one soon for a taste.
2497
(Sorry about the photo quality -- or lack thereof)

Gillman
04-02-2006, 19:12
Tim, if you open one, this is what it will taste like (based on my last tasting some 20 years ago): sweetish with notes of dark caramel, not estery, light barrel tones, almost fudge-like. Do I have a good memory? :)

Gary

TNbourbon
04-02-2006, 19:36
Tim, if you open one, this is what it will taste like (based on my last tasting some 20 years ago): sweetish with notes of dark caramel, not estery, light barrel tones, almost fudge-like. Do I have a good memory? :)

Gary

I hope your memory is perfect, Gary! If so, sounds like I've got some good whiskey.
Let's sample it together in Bardstown.

ratcheer
04-02-2006, 20:00
I have a pair of these bottles from 1975, both contained in a Ft. Snelling stand/holder and issued to commemorate the annual American Legion convention in Minneapolis that year. I just picked up the second one in an old store around here last week, and thought maybe I'd open one soon for a taste.
2497
(Sorry about the photo quality -- or lack thereof)

Tim, that is exactly the bottling I remember.

Tim

Gillman
04-02-2006, 20:04
Thanks Tim, a typically generous offer, I'll take you up on it.

And thanks to Tim (Ratcheer) for confirming your recollection.

I just want to add that amongst the bourbons available today, the one that reminds me most of the old Benchmark is Elmer T. Lee.

Gary

cowdery
04-02-2006, 20:56
I have a small correction for Gary and a couple of additional comments. The correction is that Benchmark was originally made at the big Seagrams plant in Louisville, not at Four Roses. I learned just the other day from an old Seagrams man that the Louisville plant was Mr. Sam's (Sam Bronfman, that is) pride and joy, so everyone was shocked when it was shut down in the early 1980s.

The other interesting fact about Benchmark is that it was the last new bourbon brand introduced, at least by a major producer, until Booker's and Blanton's debuted in the late 1980s. For some reason I vividly remember the ad campaign. It showed a man's lower legs, clad in jeans and wearing cowboy boots, crossed as if in repose, next to the bottle, on what looked like a weathered wooden fence or something like that.

Eagle Rare was another Seagrams bourbon that they introduced at about the same time. Sazerac picked both of them up in one of the first big brand sell-offs Seagrams did in the 1980s, probably at about the same time Seagrams closed the Louisville plant. This was before Sazerac bought Buffalo Trace. During that period, the whiskey was Heaven Hill.

McAfee is a name associated with the Buffalo Trace site in Frankfort and, as Gary says, it was a much later addition.

gr8erdane
04-03-2006, 04:19
I have the exact same bottle as the one shown on eBay and I believe I traded one just like it to Cliff or someone else at a prior Gazebo as I found two. Sounds like they run in pairs....

ThomasH
04-03-2006, 17:40
Ohio sell the 8yr, 80 proof version of Mcafee's Benchmark for 16.80 a 1.75L bottle or about 8.00 for a 750ml. The brand seems to sell well in its price range and I have heard favorable comments about it!

Thomas

Ken Weber
04-20-2006, 15:22
Benchmark is simply an entry level bourbon. It is 4 years old and I am sure the folks at InSpirit (our agency in the UK) used it to convey the idea that we do not sell it in the UK because it is vastly inferior to Buffalo Trace. That being said, they wanted to compare Jack to Benchmark. I really tried to word this as subtly as possible, but there just isn't any easy way to do it.

Ken